- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

U.S.-backed forces in Syria began Tuesday the long-awaited assault on Islamic State’s self-styled capital of Raqqa, a fight that could mark the beginning of the end of the terror group’s so-called caliphate in the Mideast.

Senior leaders with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the group of myriad Arab and Kurdish militias battling to retake the northern Syrian city from the terror group known as ISIS or ISIL, announced the beginning of the offensive Tuesday morning.

“We declare today the beginning of the great battle to liberate the city of Raqqa, the alleged capital of terrorism and terrorists,” SDF spokesman Talal Sillo told reporters during a briefing Tuesday.

“Morale is high and military readiness to implement the military plan is complete, in coordination with the U.S.-led coalition,” he added, according to the Associated Press.

Earlier this week, coalition officials announced that SDF and coalition forces had fully surrounded the city and closed to within less than a mile of Raqqa’s borders.

Officials at the Pentagon and American commanders on the ground advising Syrian paramilitaries say the battle for Raqqa will be a grueling one, as the Islamic State will likely fight to the last man to hold on to its last major bastion in the country.

“The International Coalition and our partner forces are steadily dismantling the physical caliphate of ISIS,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq and Syria.

“Once ISIS is defeated in both Mosul and Raqqa, there will still be a lot of hard fighting ahead, but this coalition is strong and committed to the complete annihilation of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria,” he said in a command statement.

Members of the SDF, backed by American artillery and air power, have inched closer to the ISIS capital over the last several months, taking control of the strategically important Taqba Dam in April.

The dam, along with the surrounding town and adjacent airfield, provides Syrian and coalition forces with a prime “launching point” for future U.S. and coalition-led operations once the advance on Raqqa begins, officials from U.S. Central Command said at the time.

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